Letters from Adelaide

Among the passengers on the Harpley were John Freestone (36), Ann (30), William (10), Alfred (8), John (6), Henry (4) and Charles Robert (2). In November and December, 1848 John wrote two letters home which were published in the Nottingham Review...


It will be in the recollection of our readers that about the time of the outburst of the French Revolution, when so many Nottingham lace-hands were driven from Calais, a large number of them were provided with the means of transport to Australia. The following letters are from one of the number:-
South Australia, November 1, 1848.
We landed at Port Adelaide on the 2d of September, after a pretty fair voyage of four months. It was late on Saturday night when we got up to the quay-side, so no person went on shore that night. Several went on shore the next morning. I went in the afternoon, and a fine muddy, dirty place it was. It was all hop, jump and pick your road as well as you could, I used to think St. Pierre a very dirty place, but it is a palace to Port Adelaide. It is the muddiest place I had ever seen, and no mistake about it.
Well, after viewing the Port, I began to wonder what sort of a place the Town of Adelaide was; so the next day, Monday, after the commissioner had been and examined every person on board, and given such information as he was asked for, I and B. Holmes started for Adelaide to seek for work; but we found plenty out of work as well as ourselves, and began to think we must have come to the wrong place. However, I went backwards and forwards from the ship to the town of Adelaide (which is six miles) for four or five days, making all the enquiries I could, until all my cash was gone; but having £2 to receive when I had been there eight days, for the office I served on board the ship, I determined not to spend it going to Adelaide, but to march straight into the bush at once, and not turn back until I had got work of some sort or other. I told a man my intentions, and he said he would go with me; so, having got my brass, four of us started together, our first place to try being Gawler Town.
The weather was very fine, and hot to us, so by the time we had walked seven miles we were all thirsty. We stopped at a place called Dry Creek, and lucky it proved, for a person whom we met, going to spend his money at Adelaide, said if a cart came past while we were refreshing ourselves, he would pay for us to ride, "For," said he,"thirty miles is too much for you to walk on a day like this."
We thanked him, telling him we could walk it very well, and, while giving him all the information we could about Old England, up came a cart, which runs every day from Adelaide to Gawler Town. He asked the driver what he would take us for?_"Sixteen shillings," said he. _"But they are fresh comers," said our newly met friend. _"Then I will take them for fourteen," said the driver.
Our friend paid the money, in we jumped, shook hands with him, and parted, perhaps never to meet more; if not I shall always think of him with gratitude and respect for the kind manner in which he assisted four strangers. When we arrived at Gawler Town, we called on Mr Calton, who keeps a large inn, and, I am happy to say, is doing well. He is the brother of Chas.Calton who was apprentice at Mosely's when my brother Charles was. I knew H.Calton directly I saw him, and he knew me through seeing me at Adelaide. He held out his hand, and asked me how I did and so on.
" Well," said I, "Mr Calton, we are seeking work, and I want you to give us a bit of advice."_"Go in there first," said he, pointing to a room where about a dozen men were taking their evening's meal. We went in accordingly, and had an excellent supper. He then came and joined us, and I told him how we were situated, that we wanted work, and work we must have. He said he would try what he could do for us, as he had two sheep-farmers in the house,and, after partaking of a glass of ale with us, he went out to them. In about an hour he returned and said he thought it was all right. We saw the two farmers, and one engaged me and two others as shepherds, the wages being 15s per week, with 20lbs of flour, 20lbs of meat, 2lbs of sugar and 1/2lb of tea. I thought this would keep us from starving.
We stayed at Mr Calton's all night, and, after breakfasting next morning, when we called for the bill there was nothing to pay; indeed, he behaved like a gentleman to us. From what I have heard of him and his brother Charles, I should think there are not two men in all the colony more respected. Well, after engaging we went back to the ship with lighter hearts. All we wanted now was a dray to take us the seventy miles into the bush, which was no easy matter. We, however, found a man with three drays who agreed to take all three families up to the place for £7; so we all started on the 18th of September. The first two nights we all slept on the floor of a house; the third at Mr Calton's, who behaved with his usual kindness, charging us nothing for sleeping; the fourth night we slept in the middle of a wood, with a good blazing fire at our feet, and the sky for our canopy; and just before dark the next night we reached our destination; and right glad were we all to think we were once more likely to be settled in a house of our own, for our's had been a wearisome journey.
Well, here we are, located in a mud hut, with only one room in it, for cooking, sleeping, and everything else, with a hundred crevices, through which come the wind and rain; but I have stopped the greater part of them up. As for chairs and tables, our boxes serve for both. I have heard talk of the mud cabins of Old Ireland, but if they are any worse than the shepherd's huts of South Australia, I feel sorry for them. But if our huts are no better than their's, we are better off than them in the "grubbing" department; we do get plenty of mutton, damper and tea. But Ann makes very little damper, as it is too heavy for the children, so we get some yeast from the gaffers and Ann makes some beautiful light bread; but, what makes it very troublesome, she has to bake it in a small frying pan among the ashes. We shall be better off in a bit for cooking utensils and everything else. I can see very plain it takes a married man twelve months to get thoroughly settled, with things proper for his use. For the first fortnight I was jobbing about the master's house, after that I had a flock of sheep to take care of. The same day William went to take care of some shorn sheep, and has been shepherding ever since, though I do not expect they will be able to find work for him all the year. He has been a very good boy. For the first fortnight that we were shepherding it rained during the days which was enough to daunt a man, much more a boy like him, but he stood it out.
It has been a very rainy season here; the oldest colonist cannot remember such a wet season. To me the weather has appeared like a very fine spring in England. I was saying that our first fortnight was a wet one; I got wet through two or three times a day, but I would sooner be wet through twenty times here than once in England. In my next I will tell you what I think of the place and my prospects. In the meantime accept the love of my wife, my children and myself.

South Australia, December 15, 1848.
Dear father and mother,
I hope you received the newspaper I sent, containing a full account of our arrival, and a list of the names of all the emigrants on board the Harpley. I sent it on purpose to set your minds at rest concerning the safety of my little lot from "the dangers of the deep" and I hope you have also received my letter bearing date November the 1st, wherein I gave you an account of our landing and my seeking for work, and getting a place to go shepherding. In that letter I promised to send you word what I thought of the country, and what were my prospects. In the first place, then, I will tell you, as far as I am able to judge, what I think of the country and climate. The weather, so far, I think beautiful. It has been, to my thinking, just like a very fine spring, though the colonists say it is cold, and that there has been two winters this year, and not one of the oldest among them ever remembers the rainy season to have lasted so long.
Nevertheless, I think it all the better for us who had just landed, as we get used to the extreme heat by degrees; and, if I can judge from the short space of time I have been here, taking my own family for example, I should say it is a very healthy country for Europeans, though I believe my mud cabin is situated in one of the healthiest spots in all South Australia, being in a valley within four or five miles of the top of a range of mountains, and within twenty yard of what is called the River Gilbert. But they call anything a river here. The Gilbert is no bigger than the Tinker's Leen in Nottingham Meadows, and is only a river in the rainy season; in the summer time it is nothing else but a string of water-holes. As for the land it is of a fertile description, but the scarcity of water is a great drawback on cultivation. There is not one stream that deserves the name of river. The Torrens, which runs through Adelaide, is the same as the Gilbert, nothing but holes of water here and there during the summer time.
There is plenty of good corn and good vegetables grown here, and the land is well adapted for the growth of the vine. There are many farmers with small vineyards, and I have no doubt before long it will be a very profitable source of commerce. As for the timber, there is very little good about where I am; but they tell me there is plenty of good timber 20 miles off. The principal trees about here are gum-trees. We have often talked and laughed about Colonel Crockett and "Opossum up a gum-tree", but it is a reality; for there are plenty of them. There are plenty of kangaroos and emus within 15 miles of my hut, and if I had a gun I could have plenty of sport, for quails, wood pigeons, ducks and turkeys are here in abundance, and also crows, magpies, hawks, parrots and all others down to as small as tomtit, and no trouble to get at them, for the birds are all very tame, and will let you come within a few yards of them. But the most plentiful thing here is the ant; there are hundreds of thousands of millions of them, and some very large, plenty an inch long. The grass is alive with ants, grasshoppers, beetles and several other sorts of insects - lizards so large that had I seen them in England I should have thought them young crocodiles. The worst of all is the snake, whose bite is death. There is a fair sprinkling of that venomous reptiles about here. I have killed five; the longest between five and six feet. We have had several natives call at our hut. They all seem very harmless, but Ann cannot bear the sight of them, so she does not care how few of them come.
And now to tell you, if I can, what are our prospects; but I think this will bother me at present, for everything seems dull, gloomy and uncertain - wages are coming down and masters are making the flocks a third larger. It is a rather curious fact, that the French Revolution, which was the principal cause of our coming, should be the ruin of several of the sheep-farmers here, yet it is no less strange than true, for the price of wool has come down very low, fetching but one half the price. Several of the poorest farmers have been sold up stick and stump, very good sheep selling for 3s.6d. each, so that you you will see, instead of my getting out of the reach of revolutionary war and its effects, I have been dropt in where it is felt the worst. You know I have not been the luckiest fellow in the world, and this is only another instance of my close connexion with "Fortune's eldest daughter".
I do not feel satisfied with my prospects here, and therefore intend coming back to Nottingham if I can get a chance, that is, if the lace trade keeps anything like as good as was expected when I was there, and for the following reasons:- First, my wife does not like the place, neither does she like the thought of being here by ourselves. While there was some likelihood of some of you coming to us, she was contented, but when we found how things were going, we of course made up our minds that under no consideration would we send for any of you, nor, indeed, would I persuade any other person to come unless he could land with £120 in his pocket. In the second place, wages will be very low, so low that a man, after living very frugally, having nothing but damper, mutton, tea and his "bacca" for a year, will be able to save next to nothing. Indeed, at the time I am writing this, there are no less than nine hundred men and women walking Adelaide streets in search of employment, some begging for work at any price. I really do not know what is to become of all the emigrants who are coming here, unless Government starts some public work such as cutting a canal, or making a railroad, or something of that sort.
There used to be always a demand for shepherds but there are too many now. The masters used to think 900 or 1000 a sufficient quantity for one flock, but now they have made three flocks into two, thus throwing every third shepherd out of employ, besides hut-keepers; so you will see they do not want any new hands for shepherding for some time to come. The third reason is, I should not like to stop here to do no better than at home, and at present I do not see any chance of doing so well, much more better, - that is, always supposing trade to be as good as when I left. I expected to find good land cheap, so that a poor man would have a chance of buying some; but I find on the contrary, land is very dear near to the large towns. There is certainly plenty of land to be bought for £1 per acre, but it would not be of any use to a man like me, for the produce of such land would cost more in carriage to the market than it would be worth when it got there, all kinds of cartage being extremely dear, which is principally owing to the very bad roads.
As I have now given you my reasons for thinking of returning to Old England, you must not think that they are any worse than I have stated, I have neither made them better nor worse, but just what I really think they are. Neither must you think that we are miserable, or short of "grub", we have plenty of victuals, and generally a good plum pudding on a Sunday. You know I have not been here long, and therefore may be writing under false impressions, but I have stated what I think is true.
backbuttonI remain your affectionate son, John Freestone.

Nottingham Review 27 Jul 1849 p8

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